Review: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Corner of WhiteTitle: A Corner of White (Colours of Madeleine #1)

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Publication Date: September 18th, 2012

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The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).

Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.

As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…


While all of Jaclyn Moriarty’s books are creative and original, “A Corner of White” is so original that it almost defies classification. At times funny and heartbreaking, subtle and transparent, this novel will work its way into your heart and take up permanent residence on your “favourites” shelf. For all those who are patient enough to take pleasure in a story that slowly gains momentum, this one’s for you.

In case I wasn’t clear earlier, this is not a plot-driven novel. Many ordinary, everyday things happen to narrators Elliot and Madeleine, but their relevance may not be clear until you have turned the final page. And I think that’s a good thing. The leisurely pace of the first three quarters of the novel allows us time to think critically about the unreliability of the narration. Before she moved to Cambridge, was Madeleine’s life really as wonderful as she makes it sound? Is Elliot withdrawn because of his father’s disappearance or is he just aloof? And what the heck actually happened to Elliot’s father, anyway?

The topic of parental figures in “A Corner of White” brings me to my final observation about the brilliance of Ms. Moriarty’s work. During the course of their correspondence, Madeleine suggests to Elliot that their similarities may mean that one of them is actually the other’s shadow. While this seems improbable, I do really like the idea. Both Elliot and Madeleine are popular and well-loved, but feel isolated; they are both smarter and more insightful than anyone suspects; and they are both dealing with an ambiguous loss.

For those of you who may not know, an ambiguous loss occurs when someone we love is still alive, but for whatever reason they are lost to us nonetheless. Ambiguous loss prevents people from gaining closure, often preventing or stalling the grieving process. Elliot’s father has disappeared, and official word is that Mr. Baranski was abducted by a violent being; however, it is popular opinion that he actually left Elliot and his mother because he was having an affair. Regardless of why he left, Elliot is unable to fully grieve the loss of his father because the permanency of the loss is unclear.

Madeleine’s experience echoes Elliot’s although she is dealing with the ambiguous loss of both her parents. For reasons unknown, Madeleine and her mother Holly have fled from home, leaving Madeleine’s dad behind. It’s pretty obvious that Madeleine is in denial as to why they left, and she’s having difficulty realizing that her father may not be the super-human figure she has made him out to be. Meanwhile, Madeleine is also experiencing the beginnings of maternal ambiguous loss: Holly is having trouble remembering simple things and is frequently confused by the mundane, pointing towards a serious neurological problem. This is a particularly ambiguous loss, because while Holly is still alive and present in Madeleine’s life, in some ways she has become a shadow of her former self.

Both Elliot and Madeleine are ultimately forced to confront their respective parental issues, dealing with their grief in different ways. The parallelism of their circumstances helps tie the Kingdom of Cello and “The World” together, while their bravery in the face of loss forces us to wonder what we would do in the face of such adversity.

“A Corner of White” is a brilliant first installment in what promises to be a fresh and poignant series from Jaclyn Moriarty.

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